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ILM Explained

Banks cited as inspiration for information life cycle management strategy.

When designing a strategy for information life cycle management (ILM), EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.) certainly had banks in mind. "Banking and the medical sector are the two data-richest environments out there," says David I. Goulden, EVP of customer operations for EMC.

Part of the ILM vision resembles IBM's mainframe-era work with hierarchical storage management (HSM) introduced nearly 30 years ago. The concept is to move data to a storage medium appropriate to its relative importance over time. For example, an e-mail may stay online for a few months, move to an accessible area for a year, go to an off-line archive for another five years and then finally get erased.

Along with the workflow benefits, regulation has driven demand for enterprise storage. "It's almost an insurance practice," says Bob Zimmerman, principal analyst at Forrester Research (Cambridge, Mass.). "It's a defensive posture that corporations almost have to adopt because of the amount of regulation around privacy and data security."

Performance benefits also provide a long-term benefit. Enterprise storage management ensures that the most important and time-sensitive data are placed on the fastest and most accessible storage devices. Furthermore, moving data away from transactional databases can improve performance, according to EMC's Goulden.

Also, by placing storage-related logic in a storage layer, application designers can concentrate on business logic. "Twenty-five years ago, the applications were up to their eyeballs in the hardware," says Forrester's Zimmerman. "They had to be." Now, developers need only make applications "storage-aware," with the ability to, for example, tell a user how long it might take to access a given record.

To assemble the pieces for its ILM strategy, EMC has spent $3.5 billion on acquisitions and $3 billion on R&D, according to Goulden. The acquisitions included Legato for storage management software, Documentum for a repository for unstructured data and VMware to manage a virtualized infrastructure. "VMware is an odd duck in EMC's strategy," Zimmerman says. "Incorporating that into the ILM strategy is stepping away from EMC's traditional turf."

But given the competition in the storage market, that may not be a bad idea. "The objective is not just to look at storage as a silo," says Rob Schafer, analyst with META Group (Stamford, Conn.). "EMC is positioning itself to be a long-term player versus the 800-pound gorillas out there, particularly IBM."

Just as storage management software can automatically ascertain which storage device best suits any given data element, server virtualization holds the promise of automatic deployment of applications to the most appropriate hardware. So if the real-time needs of an organization require that an application and its data must operate on the fastest systems available, "an application and its data can move across the storage system and the service system together," Goulden explains.

In such an environment, a rules-based optimization engine can "mix-and-match storage, hardware, servers and networks," so that a single administrator can manage "tens, if not hundreds" of servers and terabytes of data, describes Schafer.

But, in the meantime, banks still have to struggle with interoperability issues with storage management software, particularly when running devices from other vendors. While an EMC storage management solution may recognize a "foreign" device, it doesn't always take advantage of the added, performance-enhancing features of those devices.

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